Even as they swept the Marlins, the Braves knew they had to fix their offense heading into a four-game set with the pesky Astros.
But what none of the Braves, nor their fans, envisioned, was an offensive explosion in the first two games of the series before taking three of four from their hosts.
Two 2-out rallies kept the first and third innings alive, putting the Braves up 5-0 on a 440-foot homer off the bat Freddie Freeman and another (366 feet) from Alex Gonzalez. Added to that, surprisingly enough, was a Dan Uggla double.
The Astros got a run off Tim Hudson in the 3rd, but the Braves piled more on in the 5th, sparked by Jordan Schafer and RBI hits from Chipper Jones (single), Alex Gonzalez (2, double) and recent call-up Matt Young (single), building a 9-1 lead.
Huddy’s wild pitch in the 5th gave the Astros another run, but he was solid Friday night, going 6 innings and throwing only 88 pitches, allowing the two runs on 7 hits and striking out 4.
Homers off the bats of Eric Hinske and Chipper Jones gave the Braves an 11-2 lead before Cristian Martinez allowed 2 runs in the 9th inning before wrapping up the 9th and securing the 11-4 victory and the fourth consecutive for the Braves.
Chipper called it a hitch in his swing that his dad fixed, but it looked like the touchdown in Houston helped Uggla as well. Even though he went 1-5 in the first game, he had good at bats, especially in his 3rd inning at bat where he produced a double.
In the second game and said to be feeling more comfortable, Uggla, as well as Schafer, got the Braves going.
Both of them got on base in the first, but rookie Jordan Lyles held the Braves in check while the Astros scored two quick runs off Mike Minor.
After Uggla walked in the 3rd, Chipper came through with a double to deep left, scoring Uggla, but Chipper was left stranded.
Minor kept the Astros at bay until his night was over after 6 innings while Hinske tied the game with a homer in the 4th, and both pitching staffs held the opposition without a run until the Braves, led by Schafer and Uggla, came through in the 10th.
Schafer singled and stole second before Uggla walked, bringing up Brian McCann. With the day off Friday, McCann hadn’t had a chance to reacquaint himself with Astro pitching.
He said after the game that Astros reliever Brandon Lyon wasn’t one he saw the ball too well off of, but it did not appear that way as he launched Lyon’s 2-1 offering into the seats in right field. A single by Hinske scored Chipper, giving the Braves a 6-2 lead before Craig Kimbrel came in and allowed Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence to tag him for a run before ending the Astros rally with Lee stranded on second, sealing the Braves victory.
Minor did not factor into the decision as it went extras, but the young lefty did well with the Astros lineup, allowing the 2 runs on 4 hits while striking out 4 and walking 2.
The Braves did not let up on the gas, and Uggla continued to show signs of settling down as he launched a 369-foot homer to left right after Schafer got on with an infield single to start the game.
That was all Tommy Hanson needed. The tall righty struck out 14 over 7 innings, limiting the Astros to 3 hits and a run while walking 2.
Hanson struck out the side in the 3rd and 7th innings, giving the Braves another strong performance from their starting pitching.
Continuing his powerful performances against the Astros in the 6th inning, McCann found the seats again, this time for a 2-run shot to right, giving the Braves a 4-1 lead.
In 17 at bats against Houston pitching this season, McCann has 5 hits, four of those are home runs, with two coming against the Astros May 17 in Atlanta (recall the pinch-hit, game-tying shot and the two-run, walk-off).
The lefty combination of Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters worked the 8th and 9th to close the game out as Venters lowered his league-leading ERA to 0.44 while earning his third save of the season as the Braves nailed down their sixth straight win.
With the road trip ending, the Braves had one final game Monday against the Astros.
This game did not go in the Braves favor, as the Astros offense awoke, led by Hunter Pence’s 4-RBI performance as he extended his hitting streak to 23 games after not playing in Sundays contest.
It was another rocky 6th inning for Derek Lowe, who held the Astros to two runs before faltering in that night-ending inning, allowing two hits to start the inning. Lowe got the first out, but that was all he got, giving up another single before Scott Linebrink came in.
Even though Linebrink and George Sherrill (one run in the 7th) were unable to stop the Astros bats while taking the 8-3 loss, the Braves did walk away from the series as winners of 7 of their last 10 with a 9-game homestand in their sights.
Schafer hit a three-run, 391-foot homer to right in the 9th with the Braves already down 8-0, but he noted that if the team doesn’t win, he isn’t satisfied with his performance, the perfect attitude to have for a leadoff hitter.
After dropping 2 of 3 to the Mets before going on the six-game streak, the Braves now welcome the Mets into Turner Field, starting tonight.
Jair Jurrjens and Jon Niese will get the series started tonight, followed by Hudson and Dillon Gee Wednesday and Mike Minor and R.A. Dickey Thursday to close out the series.
The key to shutting down the Mets is stopping Jose Reyes. As tough as it may sound, the Braves have had success against the speedy switch hitter.
Against the Braves this year: Reyes is 8-for-24 with two doubles and 5 RBI’s. Niese went 7 2/3 in his only outing against the Braves, giving up 2 runs on 8 hits before the Braves grabbed the 6-3 win June 3rd. Gee shut the Braves down last week, allowing 4 hits and no runs while out-deuling Jurrjens in a Mets 6-0 win June 4. Dickey earned the win in his June 5 start against the Braves, going 8 innings, giving up 4 hits and one run.
Jurrjens last start against the Mets was different than his first 10 starts. While he took the ball into the 7th, things got rocky as he ended the game giving up 4 runs on 6 hits while taking the loss and bumping his ERA to 1.75
Keys to the series
- Don’t under-estimate the Mets
- In their last 10, the Mets are 6-4, but as seen before, anything can happen. Limit what Reyes, Beltran, Bay, Pagan and Murphy can do, especially with runners on base.
- Make their staff work
- The Mets staff comes in with a 4.06 ERA, compared to the Braves 3.04. Niese, Gee and Dickey have had their success, but aside from Gee, the Braves have seen Niese and Dickey more than once, and can figure him out.
- Put Monday behind you
- The road trip ended strong, and the offense, sparked by Schafer and Uggla and powered by Freeman, McCann and Hinske among others, can pick up where it left off.
Notes: The Braves were 3-3 on their homestand before the 10-game road trip.. Jason Heyward started Monday night at Triple-A Gwinnett going 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.. Martin Prado was placed on the 15-day DL while recovering from a staph infection in his calf and is likely to miss the rest of June..